Review: Queen of the Martian Catacombs by Leigh Brackett

To the best of this writer’s knowledge, the previous Eric John Stark novella reviewed here is the third one in the series. Queen of the Martian Catacombs* is, judging by the writing, the first in the trilogy:

Queen of the Martian Catacombs | eBay

MARS IS ON THE VERGE OF WAR!

          Trouble is brewing on Mars… With civil war about to erupt, Eric John Stark has been sent to investigate an apocalyptic warlord recruiting mercenaries. More disturbing than the promise of a full scale war to unify the Martian city states is the claim that Delgaun’s ally, Kynon of Shun, has at his disposal ancient sorceries that grant him powers of life and death.

          When Kynon’s mistress, the beautiful Berild, takes an interest in Stark, the mercenary swordsman finds himself caught in a web of lies, betrayal, and evil magic. Can Stark unravel the mysteries of the lost Martian tribe and pull Mars back from the brink of war? The mysterious Berild is prepared to kill to keep the secret buried in the deserts of Mars – or offer it up on a plate to Stark if he will help her conquer the Red Planet!

          An all-new, fully illustrated edition of Leigh Brackett’s classic Sword & Planet adventure!

The tale begins with a hunted man. Pursued by the law, Eric John Stark’s options are limited. However, he still intends to fight for his life and his freedom. Low on ammo and with only one pistol to defend himself, it looks like he is about to make a last stand….

…until one of the riders who halts a short distance from his hiding place dismounts, walks forward, and addresses him by his Mercurian name. In the tongue of the tribes from Mercury!

It takes a moment, but Stark eventually recognizes the man, who has no intention of reaching for his weapons. The two discuss what has led the wandering swordsman to this pass, before moving on to all matters Martian. As the blurb above says, war is brewing on Mars. But where the conflict in Black Amazon of Mars* took place to the north, this one is stirring in the warmer regions of the Red Planet.

Due to these circumstances, the law is ready to broker a deal with Stark. If he infiltrates the army of Kynon of Shun to learn of his true intentions, they will forget the “mishap” which led to this desperate race across the desert. Refusal will result in his death as he fights against both his old acquaintance and the two officers with him.

With a bargain such as this, what choice does a man have? Though he is not particularly happy about it, Stark agrees to the bargain. Furnished with extra supplies and ammunition, he heads for the city where Kynon will continue his recruitment drive among the tribes. Several interstellar swordsmen are already sworn to his cause and should meet him there as well.

It is a perfect situation. Between the fact that he is obviously a fighter and the whispers that he is wanted by the law, no one will suspect the Mercury tribesman of searching for anything but his next job. He can slip in and sign on with Kynon’s other mercenaries easily.

But strange things are afoot in the city when Stark arrives. He runs into a girl with a demeanor and eyes older than her body, who warns him not to beware of Kynon, but to avoid his consort Berild. Stark then witnesses an apparent act of magic whereby an old man’s mind is switched with that of a young slave boy’s, giving him the youth and vigor he desires, while the child apparently perishes. He then incurs the displeasure of Kynon’s male adviser, Delgaun, who seems to consider Berild his personal property.

And among the hired mercenaries, Stark encounters an old enemy he still wishes to kill.

The man has no love for him, either, but he is more willing to abide Kynon’s admonishment that they focus their efforts elsewhere. Stark knows better; the other mercenary fears him, and at the first opportunity, he will strike the Mercury tribesman in the back to prevent his own death. So the wandering swordsman intends to watch him carefully.

However, when a sandstorm hits the marching columns of men, Stark is caught unaware. Separated from the caravan, without food or water, his only companion is Berild. The one the strange little slave girl adamantly warned him not to trust.

If you enjoy vintage sci-fi/fantasy tales with a hint of parapsychology, readers, then this little novella will be just what the doctor ordered. Queen of the Martian Catacombs has just enough mystery, intrigue, and pulse-pounding action to keep one turning the pages until the closing page. StarTwo did a wonderful job with the illustrations, and Cirsova Publishing is to be commended for bringing this classic pulp tale to a new audience!

Pick up Queen of the Martian Catacombs and its sequels at your earliest convenience, readers. You will not regret it!

*These are Amazon affiliate links. When you purchase something through them, this author receives a commission from Amazon at no extra charge to you, the buyer. If you liked this article, friend Caroline Furlong on Facebook or follow her here at www.carolinefurlong.wordpress.com. Her stories have been published in Cirsova’s Summer Special and Unbound III: Goodbye, Earth, while her poetry appeared in Organic Ink, Vol. 2. She has also had stories published in Planetary Anthologies Luna and Uranus. Another story was released in Cirsova Magazine’s Summer Issue. Her most recent piece is available in Planetary Anthology: Sol. Order them today!

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